Alexander Gustafsson laid the wood to Jimi Manuwa. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Alexander Gustafsson did his part. The next move belongs to Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones.
Gustafsson left his tire marks on Jimi Manuwa in the UFC Fight Night 38 main event on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, as he buried the previously unbeaten Englishman with a savage knee strike and follow-up punches 1:18 into the second round. The 27-year-old Swede improved to 8-2 inside the Octagon and cemented his place as the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds.
Manuwa’s aggression was met with a finely tuned and executed game plan, as Gustafsson switched gears with a takedown in the first round. Some intermittent ground-and-pound followed, and though the damage exacted was minimal at best, doubt undoubtedly crept into the underdog’s mind. Gustafsson capitalized in round two, where he short-circuited Manuwa with a devastating knee from the Thai plum, backed it up with a pair of right uppercuts and then sealed the heavy-handed Brit’s fate with hammerfists on the ground.
Afterward, Gustafsson called for a rematch with Jones, having failed in his attempt to unseat the 205-pound king at UFC 165 in September. The contentious nature of the decision had the public clamoring for a sequel, and with Manuwa now in the rearview mirror, Gustafsson has cleared his path. Jones, meanwhile, must first defend his light heavyweight crown against Glover Teixeira in the UFC 172 headliner next month in Baltimore.
Manuwa does not stand to lose much in defeat. The 34-year-old gained some necessary exposure by getting his name on the marquee and will likely land another high-profile opponent in the months ahead. Phil Davis and Anthony Johnson are scheduled to square off at UFC 172. Perhaps the loser could provide a suitable adversary for the “Poster Boy.”
In wake of UFC Fight Night 38 “Gustafsson vs. Manuwa,” here are four other matchups that ought to be considered:
Michael Johnson vs. Jim Miller-Bobby Green winner: Johnson may not have wowed the masses with his performance, but he did enough to get past the dangerous but enigmatic Melvin Guillard in the co-main event. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 12 finalist has rattled off three straight wins since his back-to-back losses to Myles Jury and Reza Madadi, slowly climbing back to a meaningful position at 155 pounds. Miller and Green will lock horns at UFC 172 on April 26.
Brad Pickett vs. Joseph Benavidez-Tim Elliott winner: American Top Team’s Pickett dipped his toes in flyweight waters for the first time, outlasting Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder Neil Seery in a unanimous decision. The 35-year-old Englishman already owns a victory over current 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson and figures to move quickly in the still-shallow division, provided he racks up the requisite wins. Benavidez and Elliott will duke it out at UFC 172 in April.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Mike Pyle: Perhaps no fighter on the UFC Fight Night 38 lineup was as impressive as Nelson. The undefeated Renzo Gracie disciple ran circles around Omari Akhmedov, battering him with merciless, elbow-laden ground-and-pound from the mount before submitting him with a first-round guillotine choke. Long lauded as one of the sport’s top prospects, Nelson appears to be shedding that label for a far more substantial one. Pyle has won nine of past 12 bouts, losing only to Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald and Matt Brown, all of whom are currently ranked in the top 10 at 170 pounds.
Melvin Guillard vs. Ross Pearson: Less than three years ago, Guillard was on the verge of title contention in the lightweight division. A 2-5 mark since has left him without a clear path. The 30-year-old fell short in his UFC Fight Night 38 co-main event with Michael Johnson, as he ceded the center of the cage to the Blackzilians representative and seemed content to circle on the perimeter. Guillard’s talent has never been in question, but his lack of consistency keeps him shrouded in uncertainty. He still has unfinished business with Pearson, the man he was originally slated to face in London.